The U.S. Chamber’s non-US funders

The skilled flacks of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – no doubt the best that foreign money can buy – have largely succeeded in obfuscating the issue about the relationship between the Chamber’s $75 million smear campaign against Democrats and the Chamber’s overseas contributors.

The Chamber says it gets only $100,000 per year in dues from its overseas affiliates, the AmChams. So what? The Chamber also solicits foreign companies for direct contributions, and has a second set of foreign affiliates, the Business Councils, to help promote that process.

It’s true that putting foreign money directly into American campaigns is a crime, and there’s no evidence so far that the Chamber has committed that crime. It’s also true that no one outside the Chamber is in a position to say whether the law has been broken or not, and that the Chamber refuses to provide the data.

But the Chamber hasn’t bothered to deny the main point of the ThinkProgress report: that the money it openly solicits from foreign companies goes into the same bank account that funds its political ads. Money is fungible. So if the Chamber gets a contribution from (let’s just imagine) the Bin Laden construction group in Saudi Arabia, it can pay its staff and overhead expenses with that money, and use some of its domestic proceeds – money it wouldn’t otherwise have available – to buy itself a friendly Congress.

The difference between a Russian or Chinese or Saudi company making a contribution to the Chamber for use in U.S. elections, and the same company making the same contribution to the same organization nominally for some other use, but which allows the Chamber to spend more money to influence U.S. elections, is just precisely no difference at all.

The Chamber can put an end to the controversy at any time, by simply publishing the same information about its money sources required of any political campaign. So far, it hasn’t done so. What is the Chamber hiding?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

26 thoughts on “The U.S. Chamber’s non-US funders”

  1. My guess is that they are hiding Obama's birth certificate. They certainly couldn't be hiding anything else.

  2. Thomas, does it not bother you that corporations have been given carte blanche to spend unlimited money promoting their preferred candidates, from both foreign and domestic sources, with no disclosure? Given that that's as true today as it was yesterday, does it make a difference that we were talking about it yesterday?

  3. jm,

    1) Gibbs is "in power", is he?

    2) It's really quite funny to quote Greenwald on the subject of opaque fundraising, given the minor blogstorm some months ago about the PAC that he and Jane Hamsher set up that turned out to have no purpose and no activities other than the funneling of money to them and a couple of their friends – and that Greenwald in particular hid behind some corporate entity in order to claim his money from the PAC. I think the PAC has disclosed their finances better than that more recently – but then, it's Greenwald who's saying it's a good idea to point out past actions inconsistent with a currently professed belief in transparent fundraising.

  4. No. And it doesn't bother you either. And it doesn't bother Mark. ThinkProgress, which injected this hit job into the media, is funded by the Center for American Progress. It's a straight-forward political operation, engaged in this sort of activity every day. And we have no idea who funds it, or where they're from. If I wanted to demagogue this mindlessly, I'd accuse them of exactly the sort of thing that they've accused the Chamber of. But I'm really not interested in that sort of thing, just as I'm not interested in defenses which insist that publishing these attacks and pushing for them to be covered in newspapers is inherently different from what the Chamber is doing. There's no reason to be stupid, and there's no reason to be pretend to be stupid just to make a stupid partisan point. No one has ever cared about this sort of influence. No one cares where newspapers get their capital, or their ad revenues for that matter, and they don't have to tell us just because they want to push one candidate or another. (And, given the changing media environment, even if we did care before, we shouldn't any more, but that's another story.)

  5. Thomas, it seems to me that a whole bunch of people do in fact care about the things that you assure us no-one cares about. And, indeed, the people who do in fact care about these things are likely to believe that more people should care about those things (and I don't understand why we should care less – especially now, with the rise of the nakedly partisan operation at Fox). I suppose that, if pushed, I'm less bothered by the fact that the Chamber of Commerce is using foreign money to influence the American election than I am bothered by the broader issue of unlimited corporate financial power influencing the American election – but if highlighting the (genuine, I believe) foreign money issue is a way to get people to pay more attention to the broader corporate money issue, I'll take it.

    And, for the record, I do agree with your implied point that the CAP should be more transparent in their funding.

  6. Once the absurd notion that money is speech is accepted you are on your way down the rabit hole. But when I speak to someone they can see my lips move* or at least hear my voice on the phone. And I think I am required to identify myself at least by good manners. If I sign a petition I must identify myself. But if I am a "corporate person" I can "say" any damned lie I like with the confidence that no one will ever know that I decieved them. Sweet!

    *Then again I was protesting against an Arian Nation rally a few weeks ago and a couple guys on the stage wore masks, if you can imagine that.

  7. "The difference between a Russian or Chinese or Saudi company making a contribution to the Chamber for use in U.S. elections, and the same company making the same contribution to the same organization nominally for some other use, but which allows the Chamber to spend more money to influence U.S. elections, is just precisely no difference at all."

    As Rush noted yesterday, by this reasoning, Obama is on the Red Chinese payroll, along with all the members of Congress. After all, money is fungible, and a substantial fraction of our federal budget is funded by the Chinese government…

  8. Brett,

    I think there may be a little difference between on the one hand government bonds bought openly for market value, and how indebted people responsible for controlling the government are to the bonds' purchasers, and on the other hand secret gifts of money to buy political influence, and how indebted the recipients of those secret gifts are to the people quietly funding a project which is rather more directly and proprietorily theirs than the entire federal government is the President's.

  9. Warren, I'll start with why we should care less, which is simply that television advertisements, which is the rat hole where most of this spending goes, matters less and less. I read the NYTimes every day–they send it into my home, for free. And I can read FT and the Guardian too, though I don't often. I read the stuff that ThinkProgress puts out, despite its obvious partisanship. If a foreign government wants to influence my opinion, or yours, they don't need to give money to the Chamber to buy television advertisements. They can give the money to CAP, or to the Times, or buy the Guardian, or maybe just one their columnists. How much does it cost to rent a blogger's opinion? Commercial television is dying, rapidly, and these other avenues to influence are increasing in importance. Unless we're willing to take our campaign finance regulations global, there's not much we can do to stop others from trying to influence things here.

    As for what people do care about, you really cared about this sort of thing, you'd care about where ThinkProgress got their money. But you don't care, and saying you wish they'd be more transparent is just a dodge. What you would have said, if you were serious, is that you are bothered by the *fact* of Cap's use of foreign and unlimited corporate money to influence the election. But you aren't serious, which is why you invent facts only for the Chamber, and why only the Chamber's funding bothers you. But you don't care. You think it'd be good for those you agree with to be more transparent. Who could disagree with that anodyne sentiment? If only that were the question.

    I like Anonymous's anonymity juxtaposed with his/her point.

  10. What's interesting to me is that setting up a couple of corporate shells to segregate money like this is the kind of thing a CPA and a lawyer could do over their lunch hour. If you wanted, you could even set it up so that the foreign money still subsidized US expenditures. If I thought the Chamber of Commerce were that smart, I might wonder whether this is like the preachers who deliberately advocate particular votes from the pulpit, daring the IRS to do something about it.

  11. Brett,

    As Rush noted yesterday, by this reasoning, Obama is on the Red Chinese payroll, along with all the members of Congress. After all, money is fungible, and a substantial fraction of our federal budget is funded by the Chinese government…

    Then Rush is even more dishonest, or dumber, than I thought. As Warren points out, there's no comparison between buying government bonds openly at market prices and making secret political contributions to advance a specific agenda. Besides, the Chinese have to do something with their trade surplus, you know.

    Stop listening to Rush and the quality of your comments will go up immensely.

  12. TV ads don't matter? A substantial majority of americans believe that it is illegal to lie on TV. That is one gullible bunch of swing voters.

    p.s. @Thomas: That "Anonymous" was me. For some reason my previously atomatic sign in has unautomaticed itself. If you got any papers you can serve'em to me.

  13. Is that the same Rush who supported the "Mexico City Policy" of not funding of any overseas organization that supported abortion, even if none of the federal funding was actually used for abortion-related activities, on the theory that money is fungible?

    Or the same Rush who supported the Stupak-Pitts Amendment to the Affordable Health Care for America Act that would have prohibited the use of federal funds to cover any part of the costs of any health care plan that included coverage of abortion, even if the money was not used directly to fund abortion, on the theory that money is fungible?

  14. Let me see how this works — I have a client in Egypt who pays me money. Then I contribute to Christine O'Donnell — I guess some Egyptian company is now contributing to O'Donnell. After all, my fees from the Egyptian are fungible with the other money that I earn.

    It seems to me that there might be a legitimate concern here if there were anything suggesting that any money was solicited purely for the purpose of laundering it into the campaigns. But I don't see any inkling of that at all. There is also no suggestion about why any foreign company might be doing this? Don't all the foreigners love Obama and hate the Republicans? Is Binladen Construction looking to start putting up strip malls in New Jersey?

  15. Horseball,

    Let me see how this works — I have a client in Egypt who pays me money. Then I contribute to Christine O’Donnell — I guess some Egyptian company is now contributing to O’Donnell. After all, my fees from the Egyptian are fungible with the other money that I earn.

    The difference is that the C of C doesn't provide any services other than political activities. An Egyptian company might pay you to provide some actual service – legal representation, engineering work, who knows what – and then it's your money to do with as you please. But the C of C doesn't do anything like that. The only reason to pay them is support their political activity.

  16. "There is also no suggestion about why any foreign company might be doing this?"

    Really?

    Money from the radical right in Israel would merit some consideration, since they have aligned themselves closely with GOP hawks who have rigidly supported every extremist action taken by conservative Israeli governments.

    So has the Saudi family which means the Saudi government and probably close to all significant Saudi companies for similar reasons, including the GOP's support for oil, oil, and more oil.

    And Osama Bin Laden and Al Queda benefited greatly while the GOP ran Congress and the White House.

  17. Bernard,

    I think what they're talking about is the overseas AmChams. Here is the Paris AmCham website http://www.amchamfrance.org/ they have lots of activities.

    I believe that, for example, many foreign citizens are members of the American Bar Association or the American Medical Association. Are you going to denounce their political activities as being some sort of Trojan horse for foreign interests?

  18. "Then Rush is even more dishonest, or dumber, than I thought. As Warren points out, there’s no comparison between buying government bonds openly at market prices and making secret political contributions to advance a specific agenda. Besides, the Chinese have to do something with their trade surplus, you know."

    Of course it's nonsense. His point being that it's precisely the SAME kind of nonsense Democrats are putting forth in regards to the Chamber.

    And, yeah, there is a difference: The C o C gets a smaller percentage of it's budget from overseas than the US government, so there's far less reason to suppose that it's actually advancing an agenda that's driven by the preferences of non-Americans.

  19. Brett,

    His point being that it’s precisely the SAME kind of nonsense Democrats are putting forth in regards to the Chamber.

    You do understand the difference between a contribution and a loan, don't you? When China buys a bond it is lending money, not donating it.

  20. Warren Terra

    Happy to inject a little humor into the debate, even unintentionally.

    1) Gibbs isn't in power? Really?

    2) I didn't know the facts behind the episode you refer to (links are a good thing), so I did a little research. The story seems to start here. After an apparently considerable amount of blogospheric sound and fury, Greenwald responded here, where he made the following statement: "In any event, all of this—payments to every last person—is and was fully disclosed for all the world to see. That’s the only reason you know about it." Can you provide contrdictory evidence to this, please? (I couldn't find any reference anywhere to the "corporate entity" you claim Greenwald hid behind.) The only apparent "non-disclosure" that I can see here is that Greenwald failed to respond to emailed questions from Cadenhead. Cadenhead, by the way, never claimed that Greenwald was being opaque in disclosing Accountability Now's donors and expenditures, he was criticizing how Hamsher and Greenwald spent the money.

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